Review of Home Fires by BA Tortuga

Rating: 4.5 stars

Home FiresHouston, Jackson’s mate, left him several years ago, sure he was ready for city life and not one lived with Jackson in the desert with cactus for neighbors. So Jackson was stunned to see Houston, or what was left of Houston dragging himself to their front door.  His mate had escaped from a government agency doing experiments on shifters, and they are after him.   But Jackson hasn’t keep the home fires burning just to let the government capture his mate again.  He will fight for his mate and for their land because no one is taking Houston away from him again, not even Houston himself.

Home Fires is a raw, rough story that BA Tortuga does so well.  Here she gives us the bare bones of a horror story.  A shifter was kidnapped along with other shifters, and taken to a secret compound where they were  experimented on, tortured and killed.  Tortuga gives us only an outline of the torture and experiments and lets our minds fill in the rest, which ratchets the terror up considerably.  What we see is the effects of his capture  upon Houston’s mind and body, including a barcode tattooed on his body of skin and bones.  He has nightmares and is confused.  The vivid descriptions of his present appearance are contrasted with Jackson’s memory of his mate before he left him.   It works beautifully to let us know just how bad a shape Houston is in now.

Jackson too is a fierce, elemental man.  At home in the desert, he is tuned tightly as a man  can be who loves his isolation and his independence.  The only thing missing from his life has been his mate and now that he has him back, there is nothing he won’t do to bring Houston back into shape and let him become the wolf shifter he knew.  Jackson will also defend them both and keep Houston safe, not an easy thing when the government agents and others are looking for them.

Just as the men are pared down to their core beings, so are the wolves within,  Houston needs to be claimed again by his mate, and Jackson needs to possess his mate in the most primal of ways.  It’s raw, its sexy and at times heartbreaking,

My only quibble with this story is that there really isn’t an end.  Some soldiers chasing them are killed in the desert but by others looking for their kin.  We never find out what happens to the compound or really to  Jackson and Houston.  And that was frustrating because these are two memorable characters who make such a huge impact upon a reader, that they story just cries out for some closure for us and for them, otherwise this would be a 5 star story instead of 4.5 stars.

Cover illustration by BSClay.  Not sure what the helicopters have to do with anything, they don’t show up in the story. Just confusing.

Story was originally published in 2007, under the title The Call.

Review of Fair Puckled by Bella Leone

Rating: 5 stars

Jackson Stuart is on a trip of a lifetime.  As a doctoral student in Celtic studies at Boston University, he jumps at a chance to accompany his professor to the Scottish Highland Games for research and field work. From the moment, Jackson and Dr. McKenzie land on Dunoon Pier, Jackson feels like he has come home.  And then he crashes head on into a gorgeous ginger haired man in a kilt who leaves him fair puckled. The way Jackson feels he may never go home again.

Bella Leone does an outstanding job of giving the reader a generous dose of Scotland in 19 pages.  From the scenery to the language, she transports the reader into the center of the Highland games and the heart of Jackson Stuart.  Where others would give us a sketch in the same short length, Leone manages to give us fully fleshed out characters who hook us in and make us care about their future once the story ends. The raucous nature of the games, along with the sweat and concentration come through beautifully as do the Scottish people themselves. In fact, I find it very much to be a love note to Scotland with the start of what promises to be a great relationship tossed into the proceedings.

I would like to see a sequel but I can imagine what takes place after the story ends as well as Leone generously left us many hints as to the path Jackson will take.  I loved this short story and think you will too. It left me as fair puckled as Jackson Stuart.  That would be the Scottish term for short of breath!

I’m Not Sexy And I Know It by Vic Winter

Rating: 4.25 stars

When a new song starts up, it finds Winston standing at the edge of the dance floor, his usual spot at the night club.  But its infectious beat has Winston moving his body to the rhythm of the music, something he never does.  A sexy voice whispers in his ear, anonymous hands are placed on his hips and an unseen dancer behind him moves him onto the dance floor and into an evening of sexy music, dancing and joy.  The evening ends and Winston still doesn’t know who his dance partner was, only the for the first time in ages he felt sexy and alive.

At brunch, his friends don’t get what made that night so special when he describes it to them as there was no date, no sex, no hooking up.   Only his friend, Clark, seems to understand how it made him feel.  And why is he is going back, hoping to find that person who finds him sexy and have one more dance.

This is a wonderfully endearing short story about a man who looks at himself in the mirror and finds the picture woefully inadequate, especially when judged against the looks of those around him, including his best friend.  Vic Winter has done a great job of capturing a person’s insecurities about their looks in his character of Winston.  Who among us has not had that moment where we have felt  fat or ugly or just plain when we take a look at the people we work or live with, even though we know we are good people inside.  Winston stands for all of us and that has us rooting for a good and  decent person to see himself as others see him.  And to a HFN, with the possibility of a HEA in the future.

My only quibble in a terrific short story is that I wish the ending had felt a little less rushed at the end as the author had struck a beautiful balance up until then.  Great job, Vic Winter.  I need to read more of your stories if I’m Not SexyAnd I Know It speaks for the rest of your stories.

Cover:  Just the same Torquere Sip cover that they use for all short stories in this category.